As most people know, the Oscars were last night. I was watching and noticing how inaccessible the stage would have been to get to as well as the walk down to the media room for the winners. In case you didn’t see it there were a number of stairs leading up to the stage with no accessible alternatives in sight. After you were finished accepting the award you go to the media room down a narrow fabric lined hall with a lot of easels sticking out into the walkway. Good luck having visual disability or being a wheelchair user and having to go down that corridor or obstacles. This, along with some other articles I’ve seen lately got me thinking about Hollywood and the tv industry.
A popular topic in the disability community lately has been the lack of actors with disabilities on camera. We see some representation of disability on TV, but in many cases the characters are not portrayed by actors with disabilities. You tend to see a lot of portrayals done by non-disabled individuals. Recently you have the shows Alphas, Glee and the movie Joyful Noise, all of which had characters with disabilities being portrayed by actors who do not have a disability. This is often seen as problematic and has been called the blackface of the disability community.
This is a problem that isn’t going to be solved overnight. There are shows that have featured actors with disabilities: American Horror Story had a character with Down Syndrome, as does Glee, reality tv shows have also taken to including people with disabilities: Zach’s travels is a travel show featuring a man with CP, Celebrity Apprentice has included Marlee Matlin and Lou Ferigno and Expedition Impossible had a blind man competing on one of the teams. This increased exposure is more than in times past, however, the problem with having more people with disabilities on screen is going to have to be solved off screen.
If we had more writers, producers, casting people and directors with disabilities working in TV and film, then there would be more of an opportunity to actually have honest roles written intelligently about disability. Or casting someone with a disability for a role that didn’t revolve entirely around their disability. Just think: if we had more writers and producers then perhaps Artie from Glee would have been portrayed by a wheelchair user, or at the very least his seating would have been improved from day 1. You wouldn’t see overly simplified and obtuse portrayals of autism either. We need to be out there, behind the scenes, acting as consultants, advocating for more and better portrayals, or even, and I know that this is a stretch, casting a person with a disability in a role that wasn’t specifically written to be a “very special episode” or having one of the characters have an “aha” moment about sensitivity. I feel that only after we have changed the system can we hope to see more success in the film and tv world for us.
What are your thoughts?